Note to Game: Dre's just not that into you.
Meet Doctor’s Advocate, the sophomore release from West Coast bad-ass The Game and the weirdest rap record of the year.
No, that’s not hate. By nakedly laying bare 70 sprawling and long-awaited minutes of ambitions, fears, failures and pleas for acceptance (within its otherwise raw gangsterism), The Game has achieved what most rappers never try: actual realness, or at least avoiding sounding like a walking potato-sack of cliches by Track 3. (You ride through California with guns and shiny rims? Get right out of town.)
But in another sense, it’s hard to listen to what is essentially a break-up album with Dr. Dre and not think, wow, this guy has more Daddy issues than Scott Evil and Bruce Springsteen put together. This is the dude who took on the whole G-Unit?
Game’s 2004 debut, The Documentary, represented, literally, the best hip-hop money could buy. In being hand-picked by Dr. Dre and backed by the ‘86 Bears-like defensive line of Eminem and 50 Cent, one got the sense that he could have handed in a dozen Huey Lewis covers and moved 3 million units. Lame title aside –- we get it! You’re writing about your life!—it was the most preordained success story of the hip-hop year, and lived up to the hype. Then things went a little nutty, and by “nutty” I mean “comprehensively destructive and with a good bit of gunfire”.
It could be argued, though, that the Game’s lively beef with 50 Cent, which seethed on mixtapes for months and resulted in a shooting and the hilarious CNN.com headline “50 Kicks Game Out of G-Unit”, was a good thing; Game got to insta-drop the image that he blew up because he had the guys on speed-dial. And the whole shebang made for great public drama anyway, much like when Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage broke up, only with several fewer capes.
On the other hand, it also forced Dre to do a little Shakespeare-ian child-favoring, and when the dust settled, Dre was with 50 and Game was with Geffen. So as a result, Dre appears nowhere on Doctor’s Advocate, except in the title, the sonic influence of most of the beats and about 80 times in every track. Rarely, if ever, has a hip-hop record been so dedicated to an absentee that wasn’t a corpse. Game: he’s just not that into you.
The ghost of Dre should get top billin’ here: Game addresses “One Blood” to Dre, thanks Dre, talks to Dre, announces his intention to be enshrined in the hip-hop hall of fame next to Dre (in this regard, the Doc is hardly alone; Game speed-namedrops MCs more aggressively than he did on his debut). The beats are furnished by appropriately shiny names -– Scott Storch, Kanye, Just Blaze –- and they end up ... sounding like Dre (a half-competent lawyer could get royalties from Storch for “Let’s Ride”). There are times when Game’s evocative, hickory-smoked rasp –- always a better instrument than 50’s swollen-sounding tongue –- seems to be importing Dre’s pitch-black baritone and cadence. At one point, the Game just announces his intention to put out “Detox” his damn self, a bold objective to declare about a guy who’s not currently returning his calls.
All of which culminates in the title-track centerpiece, a stunning, near-uncomfortable apology that’s as genuinely raw as it is sort of stalkerish. “Dre, I ain’t mean to turn my back on you, but I’m a man and sometimes a man do what he gotta do,” rasps Game, his voice actually breaking more than once, “I told you you was like a father to me / I meant that.” It ain’t “Adam Raised a Cain”, but it does illustrate that theirs is a raw sore of a relationship, made all the more improbably complex by the ludicrous set of circumstances surrounding it. And it’s not something that comes up a whole really lot in hip-hop, so points for that.
Points for a lot else, too. Overshadowed by Dre and the beef is the fact that Game is a very good rapper in the sense that John Mellencamp is a very good rock n’ roller: workmanlike, reliable, not a guy to waste time or energy, probably incapable of making some really wack shit but probably capable of just a handful of great lines per album (“Get another job/Hip-hop is not hiring/I’m the reason Dre feel comfortable retirin’ “).
And it’s not like he’s Kevin Federline: Snoop shows up here on “California Vacation”, as does Kanye West (the “Gold Digger” follow-up “Wouldn’t Get Far”), Jamie Foxx, Nas, Busta Rhymes. And as in his debut, Game is obsessed with the purity and history of hip-hop in a manner that suggests an eager need for acceptance into it. Tracks here have none of the R&B-sampling, horn-sectiony, hook-girl glitz of ‘06 rap; these are big-bang beats that seem to indicate not much happened in rap post-Doggystyle. Just Blaze reanimates “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” for the banging “Remedy”, and will.i.am furnishes a killer, old-school loop for “Compton” (Jeezus, are there any albums Will.I.Am didn’t have anything to do with in 2006? I bet he’s on that Keith Urban record somewhere).
But he hasn’t produced anywhere near the classic that the blogs seemed to think was coming. Given the context, that was probably impossible. Slapping Dre’s name so front and center just tastes weird, like like Alanis re-recording Jagged Little Pill or Queen touring without Freddie Mercury: Awk-ward. Ultimately, for all its naked ambition, “Advocate” ends up proving that without the guiding hand of Dre, Game can ... sound like Dre. Just listen to him, he’ll tell you. But without that ability to hammer out his own identity, the Game is still in progress.